Separation or divorce can be one of the most emotionally challenging times in anyone’s life. When relationships dissolve, parents experience profound feelings of anger, grief and fear over the change in family structure. Collateral damage often includes the children caught in the crossfire. Receiving stern paperwork from a lawyer, discovering your ex has a new partner, gritting your teeth through court proceedings — these situations magnify negative emotions. Worrying over finances only piles on more stress. These stresses are often amplified during the emotionally charged holiday season, which can magnify feelings of grief over changing family dynamics. Christmas time and New Year celebrations intensify every emotion, particularly for newly separated parents. Exchanging gifts, decorating the tree, gathering for meals — traditions that were once shared now require careful negotiation. These activities underline the loss of the intact family. Heightened sentimentality over “one last Christmas together” creates additional sadness and longing. So, what steps can you take to shelter kids from unnecessary turmoil? First, create an oasis at home, free from venting about adult problems. Children can blame themselves when issues arise between parents, experiencing unnecessary guilt. Validate their feelings, offer reassurance, but don’t burden them with heavy grown-up concerns. Second, keep sensitive documents strictly out of small hands. Bank statements, tax returns, court paperwork, letters between lawyers and emails between you and your ex about them — file these securely away to avoid questions that probe into uncomfortable topics. Simple organising measures like naming ambiguous folders can spare kids confusion. Third, speak respectfully with your ex-partner, at the very least while children are within earshot. Nasty jabs and shouting matches model harmful communication habits. For the kids, project an image of peaceful collaboration with your former spouse, saving charged conversations for private. Fourth, refrain from grilling children about your ex’s life after the split. Kids should not feel pressured into playing spy or picking sides. Let them talk freely but never force them to disclose details they aren’t comfortable sharing. Finally, be fully present and engaged when you have your one-on-one time with your little ones. Don’t allow work emergencies or relationship problems to constantly distract you. Set boundaries around device use and make real connections through conversation, activities, mealtimes and play. Separation rocks the foundation of families in profound ways. But children’s needs for stability and nurturance must take precedence amidst the upheaval. Maintain their routine, affirm your unconditional love, seek capable help like counselling. And above all, handle transitions patiently, calmly and respectfully. Thriving after divorce takes time and care, keeping kids’ best interest at heart paves an easier path. With diligence and compassion, families can weather tumultuous changes. Remember — your children should be the priority, not the legal wrangling. Protect them by settling issues responsibly. Manage your emotions and refrain from reacting rashly to unpleasant news. Do your best to preserve a stable, balanced and loving home environment for kids, despite the challenges divorce brings. It can be done, with conscientiousness and counselling support if needed. Simmering tensions boil over more easily under the pressure of the holidays. Disputes flare over splitting time on Christmas Day or who attends yearly family gatherings. Co-parents wrestle over upholding old rituals or forging new ones. Expenses mount for maintaining multiple households and buying duplicate gifts. Strained budgets compound the anxiety. With all these factors interplaying, separated parents often react from their rawest emotions. Lashing out in anger, wallowing in self-pity, rushing into vindictive legal action. None of these actions serve the children struggling through this transition alongside their parents. The holidays present a complex challenge for newly separated parents, even more so than the daily struggles. But just as light still shines in the darkest times of the year, your unconditional love and support can brighten your children’s pathway through one holiday season to the next. Children are remarkably resilient, especially when shown utmost care. With their needs placed first, families can even grow stronger after rebuilding from a split foundation. The process won’t be easy, but the payoff of raising secure, well-adjusted kids makes the effort worthwhile. Nicola Watts is the principal at O’Sullivan Davies.